Cleantech Award WinnerSan Francisco Business Times | June 17th, 2011
Some big ideas come in small packages – in the case of Ecologic Brands Inc., a paper laundry detergent bottle.
Partnering with the iconic green brand Seventh Generation, Ecologic’s earthy bottles are composed of an outer paper shell made of recycled cardboard and newsprint, and an inner plastic “pouch” that holds the liquid. When finished, the user cracks open the carton shell, takes out the pouch and recycles the two separately.
It’s not just a new product, says CEOÂ Julie Corbett, but a new category for packaging altogether.
“Customers have been waiting for this a long time,” Corbett says of the bottle, which uses 70 percent less plastic than ordinary detergent containers and can be replicated in the future for everything from milk, juice and water bottles to motor oil, home cleaning, pet food and personal care product containers. Also, because it ships flat – customers assemble the bottles on site – Ecologic saves tons of truck space, further lowering its carbon footprint.
“We’ve touched that raw nerve and people intuitively understand exactly what it is,” she says.
Corbett, who grew up in Montreal, where milk is sold in thin plastic pouches, got the idea from the attractive molded tray her iPhone came in and thought she “could make a form this beautiful and shape it into a bottle.”
So Ecologic came up with a sample model for milk containers and tested it with the Straus Family Creamery, which traditionally sells its milk in glass bottles.
After a six-week trial, the paper-packaged milk became Straus’ second-best-selling product. Corbett soon partnered with Seventh Generation to develop the 4X Liquid Laundry bottle, which has been on shelves across the country since March. Now, she laughs, “I’m the bottle lady.”
“It’s innovative,” saysÂ Peter Swaine, Seventh Generation’s director of packaging development. “They had a product that matched the sustainability ethics that we hold dear.”
After raising $3 million in private investment and $6 million in venture capital, Ecologic now faces the challenge of making its paper bottle scalable and price-competitive with plastic. By the end of 2012, Corbett envisions the company producing 10 to 15 million units, and around 190 million units in five years’ time.
“Funding this kind of small production – creating the plant, with packaging, with machinery – is a high-volume, low-margin business,” says Corbett.
What she’s counting on, she says, is people’s “basic, intuitive sense of what material they’d rather be holding in their hands.”
“You might not believe in organic. You might not believe in global warming. But I think everyone knows how much stuff they throw away. They know instinctively that it doesn’t just disappear, and they feel guilty.”
Now, maybe a little less so.